The once wide-open competition for the final vacancy in the Kansas City Royals rotation has all but been decided.
Although, manager Ned Yost has yet to make it official, it would be a surprise if, when the Royals leave their spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., that hard-throwing rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura is not in the rotation.
Hochevar is scheduled for season-ending Tommy John surgery. With Hochevar out, the domino effect was having Davis go back to the bullpen.
Penny, a two-time National League All-Star who did not pitch last year, was horrible in his two starts and released with a 15.75 ERA and giving up 13 hits in four innings. Zimmer, a 2012 first-round pick, never threw a pitch, reporting with a stiff shoulder and the Royals opted to go slow with him.
That left it between Ventura and Duffy. Ventura has been outstanding, while Duffy has been struggling.
Ventura drew rave reviews after a March 12 4 1/3 inning start against the Athletics, allowing two hits and one run, while striking out six and walking none. His fastball touched three figures on radar guns.
Duffy could not hold serve in a Friday start, also against the A's. He labored through two innings, permitting five runs on five hits, three walks and a hit batter, needing 65 pitches.
"I got ahead of everybody, but I couldn't put them away," Duffy said. "That pretty much was the entire brief outing that I had. I felt pretty good. I was attacking the zone and there were a couple of at-bats that I went 0-2 and 10 foul balls later, they've got a walk.
"I felt like I was on the attack and one thing led to another. I left a pitch up to the three-hole hitter (Derek Norris, three-run homer) and he smoked it. I've got to figure out a better way to go about it out there, because that's not going to help this team right now."
Duffy's ERA shot up to 11 after four outings and he likely has but two more spring training starts left to turn it around.
"There are 162 games in a season," Duffy said. "I went 2-0 last year in five starts with a sub-2 (ERA). So I know I have something better than I'm showing right now. They know it. They've been watching me since I was 18. It's frustrating. But you turn the page after I leave these doors today and back after it tomorrow."
--C Salvador Perez gave the Royals a scare, leaving a game with a bruised left hand after taking a foul tip. X-rays, however, were negative. After sitting out a game, Perez returned to the Royals' lineup.
--C Francisco Pena clubbed a game tying home run with two out and the count full in the ninth inning Friday in a 9-9 tie with the Oakland Athletics. Minutes later, Pena was called into manager Ned Yost's office and told he was being optioned to Triple-A Omaha.
--OF Alex Gordon hit his first spring training home run Friday and is batting .367 in a dozen games. "Gordon is just steady," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's a solid, solid player."
--SS Alcides Escobar has just six at-bats in three games. He was out early on a paternity leave and has been setback with shoulder tightness in his throwing arm.
--RHP Brett Tomko, who turns 41 next month and began his big league career in 1997, signed a minor league contract Friday with the Royals. He pitched for eight clubs in the majors, including the Royals in 2008, going 2-7 with a 6.97 ERA in 16 games, including 10 starts. He has pitched just 17 2/3 innings in the majors since 2009 and last year pitched for York in the independent Atlantic League.
--RHP Ramon Troncoso, who was 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 29 relief appearances last season with the White Sox, signed a minor league contract Friday with the Royals. Troncoso, 31, spent four seasons with the Dodgers, going 8-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 175 appearances.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Wade Davis was lights out. That could have been the best one inning stint this spring," -- Royals manager Ned Yost after RHP Davis struck out all three Oakland hitters he faced in the fourth inning, throwing nine strikes in 12 pitches
RHP James Shields
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Bruce Chen
RHP Yordano Ventura
Shields is the staff leader after being acquired in a blockbuster trade after the 2012 season, which included the Royals sending mega-prospect Wil Myers, the 2013 AL rookie of the year, to the Tampa Bay Rays. This is the final year of Shields' contract, so anything short of the playoffs would not look good for the Royals. Vargas was signed as a free agent to replace Ervin Santana, who had a 3.24 ERA last year. Chen signed late and will be slotted into the fourth slot, leaving only one rotation spot to fill. While hard-throwing rookie Ventura could win the job, he will be challenged by LHP Danny Duffy and RHPs Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis, who began last year in the rotation before being sent to the bullpen.
RHP Greg Holland (closer)
LHP Tim Collins
RHP Aaron Crow
RHP Luke Hochevar
RHP Wade Davis
RHP Kelvin Herrera
RHP Louis Coleman
Holland developed into one of the premier closers, saving 47 games last year while striking out 103 in 67 numbers. Davis or Hochevar could end up in the rotation, but Hochevar thrived in the bullpen last year. Herrera can run up a triple-figure fastball and is a good setup, as is Crow, a Topeka, Kansas native who was a 2011 American League All-Star selection as a rookie. Collins is a lefty with a great curve as a strikeout pitch.
1. RF Norichika Aoki
2. 2B Omar Infante
3. 1B Eric Hosmer
4. DH Billy Butler
5. LF Alex Gordon
6. C Salvador Perez
7. 3B Mike Moustakas
8. CF Lorenzo Cain
9. SS Alcides Escobar
Acquiring Aoki in a trade with the Brewers gives the Royals a true leadoff hitter. That permits manager Ned Yost to drop Gordon from first to fifth in the lineup after topping the club with 20 home runs last year. The Royals received minuscule production at second base last season, but Infante, who hit .310 with the Tigers, should correct that. Hosmer is coming off a breakthrough offensive season, but the Royals need better numbers from Moustakas, who hit .233 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs, and Escobar, who hit .234 with a .259 on-base percentage. Butler needs to return to his 2012 numbers when he hit .313 with 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. Those numbers slipped to .289-15-82 last year.
TOP ROOKIES: RHP Yordano Ventura, 22, went 8-5 with a 3.14 ERA with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, combining to strike out 155 in 134 2/3 innings, to earn a September call up. Ventura went 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in three big league starts. He could break camp as the No. 5 starter. Ventura has a fastball that can climb to 102 mph. LHP Chris Dwyer, 25, made his big league debut, too, last September, tossing three innings of scoreless relief in two outings. He was 10-11 with a 3.55 ERA in 29 games, 28 of them starts, with Omaha. He could force his way into the Kansas City rotation or be used as a reliever.
--RHP Luke Hochevar (torn ulnar collateral ligament in right elbow) was hurt March 3. He is scheduled to have season-ending Tommy John surgery by the end of March.
--RHP Kyle Zimmer (right shoulder stiffness) was shut down last August, and he experienced similar discomfort in January while throwing. The Royals will hold him out of spring games until mid- to late March.
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- Yordano Ventura
- Luke Hochevar
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- Danny Duffy
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- Ned Yost